Climate Change Leadership – MOOC

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Three spheres of transformation

In this video, Karen O’Brien, professor in human geography at University of Oslo, discusses how effective climate change leadership depends on the interplay of the practical, political and personal spheres of transformation.

Transformation is usually defined as significant changes in form, structure and meaning-making, and that means that transformations can happen in different realms or spheres.

While most climate change efforts are currently focused at the practical sphere and involve technical solutions and behaviour changes, the political and personal spheres are just as important:

We are really good at technical problems and we really understand what needs to be done and why and how and everything, but often it’s easier said than done. If it was just a technical problem, it would have been solved 20 years ago. But really, the hard parts are in the political sphere, they’r
e in the personal sphere because they’re challenging really widely and deeply held beliefs and structures in society.

To act effectively as a climate change leader means being able to collaborate with people who don’t share our world-view, according to O’Brien:

And that brings us back to the issue of leadership, of people recognizing that we all actually matter when it comes to climate change. […] [I]t’s really political agency, our capacity to actually collaborate with others, to work with people who don’t share our world-view and who don’t see the same problems and the same solutions as us. And when you start to do that, you open up for changes in all of the spheres to happen, and I think that’s where people come in as the solution to climate change through transformations.


See also

O´Brien, K. and Sygna, L. (2013). Responding to climate change: The three spheres of transformation. Proceedings of Transformation in a Changing Climate, 19-21 June 2013, Oslo, Norway. University of Oslo (pp.16-23).


© Karen O’Brien, CEMUS and Uppsala University